European romance in times of COVID-19

, by Madelaine Pitt

European romance in times of COVID-19
© Illustration of Lorène and Xesc by Clémentine Dudreuilh Instagram @clementinedud

COVID-19 has affected all our personal relationships; many of us are yet to see our family and friends after a long and uncertain period of lockdown. One particular type of relationship which may be more affected than most is the romantic variety. The situation was difficult enough for couples faced with a choice between moving in together with only a few hours notice or else staying apart for the foreseeable future. What about couples who live in different countries, who rely on international mobility to visit each other, and those who may have to choose between seeing their partner and being with their families?

From quarantine in different countries to holidays gone awry, from spontaneous move-ins to lockdown with strange roommates, here is a collection of stories offering a little insight into the trials and tribulations of relationships in times of COVID-19.

A German-Swiss couple and a forgotten email

On 14th March we set off for a long weekend in Barcelona, already a little bit worried because of the Corona situation.

Looking forward to the holiday, I had forgotten to send an important business email, which only came to my mind at home in the evening. Because the flight left from Zurich, we wanted to spend the night in Switzerland to go to the airport from there. In order not to hinder the trip to my partner’s with the forgotten email, I decided at short notice to take the laptop with me and write this last email before the vacation there. Hence the laptop went with me across the border.

Arriving in Barcelona, the situation changed in a rush. All restaurants were suddenly closed. Food was only available to go. Same in the hotel restaurant; you were not allowed to eat in the public dining room anymore, only in ‘solitary confinement’ in the guest rooms. Later on Saturday night a lockdown was announced for Monday. Nevertheless, it was implemented immediately, and suddenly Bareclona was in lockdown. We spent the time until the return flight on Monday evening in the hotel and hoped that the flight would actually fly and not be cancelled at short notice; and it wasn’t, just delayed. At first the plane could not land in Barcelona because it did not get permission. Then it had such a late departure slot that Zurich airport risked being closed by the time we arrived there. After lengthy discussions the plane got a slot to land. We landed at a quarter to midnight in Zurich and Switzerland officially closed the border to Germany at midnight. At 5 minutes to midnight we passed through customs in Zurich...

Since then, the borders of both countries have been closed. We both have been working from home in Switzerland ever since - even me as a German. This was only possible because I had fortunately taken my computer across the border because of a last-minute email…

A Transatlantic Split

My friend became an auntie in February, and her parents excitedly booked a trip to New York to go and visit their first grandchild in March. The date got nearer, it became increasingly likely that the closure of the US border was imminent. The day arrived and the flight was still on, departing from London. My friend’s parents drove to the airport debating all the way about what to do. When they arrived they still had not agreed on what to do.

“I’m not getting on the plane,” her father decided suddenly. “If we get stuck there, where will we stay? And who knows when we’ll be able to get back?” “Well, I’m going,” her mother insisted. “I want to meet my grandson.” She took her bag, said goodbye to her husband and got on the flight without him. 48 hours later, the borders were closed with just a last few flights departing to Europe. Incredibly, for an extortionate price, she got a spot on one, and flew safely back to London having spent some precious time with her son and his family.

Her husband picked her up from the airport barely three days after she had left, laughing. “That’s one to tell the grandkids!” they joked.

Love between Spain and Belgium: borders are back though we forgot they existed

We met thanks to the Young European Federalists. The first time was at a seminar in Brussels and then at a federal committee in London. Lorène lives in Belgium, Xesc lives in Spain, but we managed to see each other at least twice a month. As a European couple in a “European bubble”, we fully savoured the EU’s freedom of movement allowing us to see each other with no need to wonder about visas, border controls or right to medical care in other countries. Travelling from one country to another was so easy that “long-distance relationship” just did not ring true to us, our only concern being finding the cheapest tickets to see each other. We barely had time to miss each other that we were already on the next train or plane to meet again.

Now, this privilege is cruelly missing. We could never have imagined witnessing travel restrictions and border closing within the European Union, preventing us from seeing each other. Some weeks have been saddening, others stressful. With European governments taking snap decisions with no coordination whatsoever, borders closing one after another and travel restrictions increasing, it soon became obvious that we would not see each other for a while. The question was: how long? It has however become more and more frustrating to see reports of many people flouting lockdown rules while we still cannot see each other. The significance of borders has risen so rapidly that it still appears quite unreal (and somehow unfair) in a continent where we have been so used to forgetting about them.

We found ways to feel less apart: coordinated movie nights through Messenger, video calls, texts… Lorène’s birthday happened during lockdown, and Xesc spent days putting together videos of her friends delivering birthday wishes and he managed to trap her into a “surprise online birthday” on Jitsi Meet with her friends taking part. And we continued making plans for the future, but without knowing when we could meet again, making plans sometimes happened to be more bittersweet than comforting.

A near miss and a psycho roommate

When I left France to go and visit my parents for a long weekend, I did wonder if I would indeed be coming back to the country four days later; and when he and I would see each other again. He was trying to move house at the time to escape excessive rent and also a highly antisocial and quite odd roommate. Then lockdown came in and my flight back was cancelled; for him, moving flats was not only no longer possible but he was barely allowed to go outside to get out of the space and person he was trying to escape from.

Trapped in the flat and working from home, he began to notice odd disappearances - food from the fridge, or the odd pen or piece of paper. He shrugged it off until he needed to find his jacket on an unusually cool day for April, but couldn’t find it anywhere. He went to knock on his roommate’s door. “I haven’t seen it,” said the roommate irritably, who had barely opened the door and then tried to close the door in his face. He held it open, however. “I can see my jacket behind you!” and had to wrestle it out of his roommate’s grasp. When these incidents became more common, he was forced to get in touch with the police.

I hope he can move house soon - preferably before I can get back to France. I’m glad I didn’t decide to go into lockdown with him!

A Double Dutch Mishap

I live on the small island of Bonaire. It is part of the Caribbean Netherlands, a special municipality of the Kingdom. My husband and I are both originally from Germany. He sailed here in the early 90s, I arrived in 2014. We met a year later and got married in January this year. In early March, I quite spontaneously decided to visit a friend in Amsterdam for a week, who is there for long-term medical treatment. In those few days, the world changed.

One day before I was meant to go back home, our local government decided to close the island not just to tourists, but to its own citizens. So now I was stuck in Amsterdam, going day to day not knowing when I would be allowed back. Not daring to go to my family and friends in Germany and risk not being able to get back to Schiphol at short notice, the situation changed every day with lockdowns and closed borders.

It took two months for me to finally be allowed on a flight back. I am currently in quarantine in one of our empty hotels on Bonaire, which is something all 400+ returning residents will have to go through. In two more days I am at last going home to my husband, who I have not seen for almost three months. That will be a good day.

No more long-distance - a walk in the park

I remember crossing squares and bars to meet each other, and at some point changing it for crossing train stations and borders. Covid-19 seemed to put the world in pause. Closing borders, increased uncertainty, and staggered lockdowns. “You have a curfew and I’m still going out to work...”. It was at this point when a small panic began to set in. And then a call, “I’m coming to you, get ready”; “you know you might not be able to leave after”; “we will figure it out”. And two months later, as I find myself writing this, the fear has disappeared, and we are going back to train stations, phone calls, repeat. But with a face mask on.

In between, more than 60 days had elapsed, in which, having spontaneously moved into together, we had suddenly turned into a retired couple that enjoyed a daily walk in the park, looking at the ducks, and clapping for our health workers. Laughing out cultural barriers, sentences getting lost in translation, and conflicting video calls became part of our 9 to 5, and weekends always meant apéro (with tapas) and crêpes.

But it was also more than 60 days of following the news back home in our respective countries, worried that our loved ones might not be doing as well - and 60 days calling for a more integrated European response that invests in social care and the protection of the most vulnerable.

Thanks to everyone for being brave enough to share their stories!

Your comments

Warning, your message will only be displayed after it has been checked and approved.

Who are you?

To show your avatar with your message, register it first on (free et painless) and don’t forget to indicate your Email addresse here.

Enter your comment here

This form accepts SPIP shortcuts {{bold}} {italic} -*list [text->url] <quote> <code> and HTML code <q> <del> <ins>. To create paragraphs, just leave empty lines.

Follow the comments: RSS 2.0 | Atom